Revealed: Israeli Justice Ministry directly involved in international ‘lawfare’ activities against BDS movement
“In response to our FOI request, the Justice Ministry admitted it is secretly paying international law firms in order to combat European BDS activists and NGOs, and sent partial, censored documents. It refused to provide additional documents so as to shield the identity of the law firms and the type of services rendered, for which they are being paid millions of Shekels of tax-payers money. The reason given was that exposure’ would damage Israel’s foreign relations and the work of the Ministry’.It appears, however, that the refusal to expose the identity of and services rendered by the law firms is aimed at avoiding embarrassment to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. While Minister Shaked is promoting legislation aimed at to compelling Israeli human rights NGOs to expose their foreign donors, it now seems the Ministry itself is financing foreign bodies working against European citizens and NGOs in order to influence European public opinion which is increasingly supportive of BDS.”
5. On the 12th December 2016 a response was sent to the representative of the plaintiffs, from the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Hasbara [sic]. In this letter it was stated, inter alia, that in the National Security Cabinet decision of October 2015, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs was bestowed overall responsibility to lead the battle against the phenomena of delegitimization and boycotts against Israel, and within this to represent the position of the government against extra-governmental organizations in Israel and abroad in regards to the battle, and to act in coordination with them for the furtherance of the goals of the battle. Concerning the request for information by the plaintiffs, it was responded there, that the Ministry of Strategic Affairs did not actively contact organizations abroad.6. On the 29th of May 2017, a response from the Foreign Ministry was also sent to the plaintiffs, wherein it was informed that it was not possible to locate the relevant bodies which deal with communication with foreign bodies for the purpose mentioned in the plaintiff request, or [which deal with] documentation concerning financing given to foreign bodies for this purpose by the Foreign Ministry. Furthermore, the Foreign Ministry has referred the plaintiffs to the Justice Ministry […] [my emphasis].7. On the 16th of October 2017, the Justice Ministry provided a response. Inter alia, it was written that “in the Justice Ministry there exists information concerning communications of the Justice Ministry – the Department for Special Positions (International) with law firms abroad, in order to deal with the phenomena of BDS with legal tools. The documents in possession of the Ministry and which are relevant to the request, include: protocols and decisions of the Ministerial Survey Committee, protocols and decision by the Ministerial Exemption Committee as well as protocol for contact with lawyers abroad”. These documents were added to the Ministry decision, but it was added that “in accordance with paragraph 11 of the law, which enables passing of information yet omission of details, details have been omitted from the attached documents which are considered to be information wherein there is concern that if revealed, may harm the foreign relations of the state, … information regarding internal discussions, opinions and recommendations which were given towards the decision making, … as well as information which if revealed may damage the proper workings of the public authority or its ability to carry out its duties, …”.[emphasis in original].
Israel’s efforts to fight BDS abroad
Demanding transparency of government critics
“We are in a special situation. The respondents have not replied in their response to constitutional procedures in Israel regarding human rights organizations. I believe that the respondents should have dealt with the quotes we have brought of the Justice Minister who opined in a sweeping manner, that when a state finances activity in another state, there is importance to heightened transparency. If the sacred value is transparency – then the value of transparency is universal. There is a difficulty here to which I have not received response from the respondents. Perhaps the answer lies in the secret documents. Why is it that we cannot apply the claims of the Justice Minister concerning transparency?”
“We are really not part with the theoretical and hardened arguments of my fellow colleague nor with the concerns due to which he believes that the public interest is heightened. We think that balance leads to the conclusion, that there is no place to reveal more than that which has already been revealed.”